As the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community celebrate Lunar New Year, we embrace its intent of renewal and hope. The start of this auspicious time is marred by an ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, fueling economic uncertainty, political unrest, and racial injustice. Yet as we address diversity, equity, and inclusion, it is apparent that these critical conversations have often excluded AAPIs.
While we applaud many corporations’ focus on more substantial DE&I programming internally and externally, their definition of supporting communities of color covers Black and Hispanics but rarely indigenous populations, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. I was encouraged by collaboration of Ariel Investments and JP Morgan Chase to “promote minority businesses” only to see the press release state: “Project Black will forge a new class of Black and LatinX entrepreneurs.”
This is not an isolated initiative. Leaders of different companies say AAPIs do not seem to need any assistance. They say: “You all seem to do well on your own.” Frankly, this is untrue. In a recent survey conducted jointly by the U.S. Black Chamber, U.S. Hispanic Chamber, Asian/Pacific Islander American Chamber & Entrepreneurship (National ACE), and Public Private Strategies, the data tells a different story. When AAPI business owners were asked if COVID-19 impacted their companies, 84 percent of respondents said it harmed their businesses. Fifty-three percent of AAPI business owners also reported an increase in debt to keep their companies operating. And 49 percent reported having to layoff at least one employee–which is the highest percentage of any demographic group.
I have also heard that minority advocates are willing to push forward with a Black focus to move the needle towards equity and it will smooth the transition for LatinX & Asians, but it is about disrupting the current structure with solidarity.
Furthermore, let us not discount the 1,900 percent surge in AAPI racist attacks and harassment and the uniquely negative impact xenophobia has had on AAPI businesses and struggling communities such as Chinatown.
In conclusion, I ask corporate, nonprofit, foundation, and governmental leaders to be deliberate, purposeful, and fully inclusive as they work to address racial equity and systematic racism in our country. DE&I programs and initiatives are meant to be inclusive of all historically underrepresented and underserved communities–including Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. AAPIs expect and fully deserve a seat at the table alongside Blacks, LatinX, and indigenous communities. Collectively, this is how we can build successful, representative, and thriving communities.